Set during the Gold Rush, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt is narrated by a tenderhearted and remarkably self aware hit man, Eli Sisters. Eli struggles with his weight, matters of the heart, and the conflicting desire to venture into a simpler line of work. His brother Charlie on the other hand is an impenetrable killing machine who wakes up sick beside an empty bottle more often than not.
The story begins with the odd pair setting out on a job for a man known only as The Commodore. The Sisters boys are directed to head up to Oregon to meet up with a lookout then hunt down a prospector and return with his secret formula. They start their trip in a bit of a quarrel with Charlie being appointed the lead man on the trip then getting the better horse and all.
There are many points of hilarity as the brothers encounter both obstacles and pleasures on their journey. Readers will find themselves laughing and stopping to reflect, sometimes in the same paragraph, at the elegant yet deadpan dialogue that's easily imagined as an indie western screenplay.
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Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues puts to rest the romantic idea of the bluesman as illiterate troubadour. Author Elijah Wald’s book shows that the true pioneers of the blues were Vaudeville-trained female singers like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Louisville’s own Sara Martin. These women recorded at least a decade earlier than most of the Mississippi bluesmen, but they have been ignored by contemporary scholars or reassigned to the jazz bin. Escaping the Delta restores them to blues history and recasts the music as a story about African-American aspirations at the beginning of the 20th century.
“For its first fifty years, blues was primarily black popular music,” Wald explains. “Like rappers or country-and-western stars, the top blues singers were assumed to come from poor backgrounds and to understand the problems and aspirations of the folks on the street or out in the country, but they were also expected to be professional entertainers with nice cars and fancy clothes, admired as symbols of success.”
Wald was inspired to reexamine the story of the blues after he performed at the dedication of a grave marker for Robert Johnson, the most celebrated bluesman of the pre-war era. Johnson was rumored to have sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary talent. He died at the age of 27 having recorded just 29 songs; some of them, like “Love In Vain” and “Hellhounds On My Trail,” classics that have been covered by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, the White Stripes, and many others. However, Wald was shocked to find that many of the elderly African-American members of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, where Johnson is buried, didn’t know anything about the singer.
Johnson was only a minor recording star when he died in 1938. He gained international fame in the 1960s when fans of the folk revival began buying a reissue of his music called “King of the Delta Blues.” Johnson’s musical stature is totally a creation of critics, musicians, and scholars who were born decades after his death. Wald exposes the part that record company marketing and romanticism (if not outright racism) played in the modern perception of the blues and the intention of its artists. By telling the story from the perspective of the African-American record buyer Wald provides injects a new voice into the discussion of one of America’s most important art forms. The result is a fascinating and entertaining book.
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Full Steam Ahead: Reflections on the Impact of the First Steamboat on the Ohio River, 1811-2011, edited by Rita Kohnsubmitted by Luke
Two hundred years ago, citizens of Louisville awoke to the shrill blasts of the New Orleans, the first steamship to sail the Ohio River. At the time, many waterfront dwellers thought that the great comet of 1811 had fallen to earth and landed in the river. Instead it was the beginning of a brand new way of life for the people of Louisville and the Ohio Valley, one that was driven by steam. This story has been documented in the new book, Full Steam Ahead, edited by Rita Kohn and published by the Indiana Historical Society Press, with support from the Rivers Institute at Hanover College.
It can be argued that the steamboat has had the greatest impact upon the development of Louisville and the greater Ohio Valley than any other innovation of the past two hundred years. This collection chronicles this impact, exploring the rise and development of river boats, river life, and river culture over the past two centuries. Several local authors have contributed to this book, including Rick Bell, who wrote “The Era of Town Building Below the Falls,” a history of the development of Portland, Shippingport, and the Louisville-Portland Canal. Two Portland residents are included in this volume, Jack E. Custer, who wrote the article “A Synoptic History of Towboating and Its Origins,” and Susan M. Custer, who wrote “Steamboat Music.” Other articles include a discussion of the impact of the steam ship on black urban life in the Ohio Valley. Another article focuses on the effects that paddle boats had on the colonization of the area, as it opened up the lower Ohio Valley and the western territories to a far greater number of settlers and immigrants.
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I was recently asked “Why do you read fiction.” My first reaction is that it entertains me and that is absolutely true as I have spent many hours being entertained by novels. After some thought I realized that I like that fiction often leads me to seek out more information on a topic, place or person l, especially when it is historical fiction. This is how I became interested in Frank Lloyd Wright.
It all started with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. Prior to reading this book, the extent of my knowledge of Wright was that he was a famous architect and that my husband had a slight fascination with his work. Reading the fictional representation of Wright’s relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney and the initial building of Taliesin, Wright’s home outside of Spring Green, Wisconsin, left me wanting to know more about Frank Lloyd Wright, the man and the architect.
I immediately checked out filmmaker, Ken Burn’s documentary on Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright, from the library’s DVD collection. My husband encouraged by my interest suggested places to tour.
On a trip to Chicago, we visited the suburb of Oak Park and toured the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Wright's private residence and workplace during his early career. Take an armchair tour with The Oak Park Home and Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright by Ann Abernathy.
We next vacationed in Wisconsin, with Taliesin being the first stop. The docents told the tour group that Horan had spent time there doing research for Loving Frank and how they felt she had done an excellent job getting the facts straight. We also heard about another author who did research there, T. Coraghassen Boyle, and his novel The Women, a fictionalized account of not only Wright’s mistress but his three wives. Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin and Taliesin West by Kathryn Smith showcases not only his Wisconsin home and studio, but another place we hope to visit, Taliesin West, Wright’s winter residence outside of Scottsdale, Arizona.
On a recent beach vacation we just happened to read in the local paper that Auldbrass, a private residence designed by Wright, was open for tours that weekend. We immediately made a reservation. Auldbrass: Frank Lloyd Wright's Southern Plantation by David G. De Long offers another visual tour.
In the future, high on our list of places to visit is Fallingwater, the home where Wright incorporated a natural waterfall in the design, which is detailed in Fallingwater rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E.J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House by Franklin Toker.
For biographical information on Wright go to the source himself Frank Lloyd Wright: an Autobiography, the 2004 Penguin Life biography Frank Lloyd Wright by Ada Louise Huxtable or William R. Drennan’s Death in a Prairie House: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin murders .
I’m not sure how long this fascination will last but I am enjoying some nice vacations and I’ve even branched out to learn about other architects and architectural styles. All inspired by a novel.
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I rarely read Graphic Novels for the simple reason that they are more Graphic than Novel. I think this is my fourth one so far. The others are Maus, Ghost World, and Daytripper. All were really good but Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann is my favorite of the four. Perhaps it is because I can identify with the subject matter. John is a 40 year old husband. He is the father of two grown daughters from his first marriage. He is currently married to a younger woman, Chan. They have an infant son and a few cats. His home life is a bunch of work with little reward. His body is changing for the worse, and he is frustrated and bored at work. John also has a wandering eye.
Enter Sherry Smalls. She is a “Children’s Performer.” John discovers her from a CD that he listens to with his son. He likes her picture on the cover and becomes obsessed with her. Sherry does alright with her job. It pays the bills, but she is unfulfilled and yearns from something more. Sherry’s band-mate and sometimes boyfriend, Ric, is a junkie and a big problem for her. Thus, the stars are aligned for John and Sherry to meet. Will they ever really meet face to face? Or will Sherry just remain a distant fantasy that helps John get through his humdrum days?
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